India’s caste system reinforces prejudice

Abhinav Ramnarayan; 8/1/10

Since I have been writing about Hinduism, I have been inundated with comments asking about the caste system — some people have been curious, others have just about fallen short of demanding my blood. I am, pardon the refrain, no expert on religion, but I thought I would put down some of my thoughts on the caste system, and how it has affected my life. It may surprise some to learn that I actually don’t remember hearing any open caste-ist statement until I was in my early twenties. I was visiting a distant, elderly relative, and we were chatting comfortably about this and that, when he leaned forward and said: “You know, the dean of students at Anna University [in Chennai] doesn’t wear a poonal?” He was referring to the sacred thread worn across the body by Brahmins, the highest denomination in the Hindu caste system. At first, I was a bit befuddled by the gentleman’s apparent interest in what the dean of students at the engineering institute chose to wear under his shirt (I almost said, maybe he finds it itchy?) but I realised soon enough that he was saying that the said official was a non-Brahmin, and he clearly disapproved.